Consider the Image or, "Look At All My Shit"

The following was prompted by these two questions from Noah Lyons: Why did you leave out Spring Breakers from your top 100? Secondly, how do you feel about A Serbian Film?

My experience with Spring Breakers was complicated. As it unfolded I hated it, I loved it, I hated it, I loved it. It's beautiful, it's stupid, it's hilarious, it's monotonous. Wonderful highs, depressing lows. When I walked out of the theatre I thought I'd seen a film I loved. That quickly passed. I still think it's encouraging to see Harmony Korine's imagination taking off in fascinating new directions, as when his gangsta rap Svengali leads the girls in singing Britney Spears before and during a violent robbery. I think his work with James Franco needs to be commended because I can't think of a time when the ubiquitous star was better cast or more enjoyable. The problem was he also seemed to think he was the only person who'd noticed that kids sure are behaving badly these days, what with their materialism and drug use and their cellphones and hula hoops. I can think of six or seven films from last year with the same thesis that didn't wear out their welcome as quickly or feel the need to repeat any shots to belabor a point. One of the film's highlights is a robbery seen from the window of the getaway car, but it's blown when Korine then replays the segment from inside the diner, too proud of his work to let the breathless sequence lie. It's a show-off move that hints at a dire lack of focus. One of my biggest personal rules: if you repeat footage, there'd better a good fucking reason. I take a firm stance on issues of footage manipulation, of directors who disrespect the fact of the image. The other night I watched Ramin Bahrani's massively disappointing new film At Any Cost. A lot of people blame the Dennis Quaid performance, but it's really only behaving the same way the images do on that bland, flattening digital image. Nuance vanishes, these are now actors moving across a room. Quaid is big in the hopes of reaching the threshold of the image's tensile strength. Bahrani thought nothing of what his camera would do to motion, faces or the drama, and the resultant artless bore bears none of its creator's more humane touches because he gave up the image for dead.

Korine cares about his images, let no one tell you different, but enthusiasm overtook motivation. Some striking compositions appear and disappear quickly -  that beautiful shot of his three feral coeds silhouetted in the rain ought to convince anyone he knows what he's doing. The problem is the rest of the film could have used some of the composed nature of its most memorable seconds. Many of the conversations take place in close-ups that feel designed to make the viewer uncomfortable, or, worse, like they were chosen for no practical purpose at all. Too much incident sits at the crux of discomfort and obscenity-for-its-own-sake. Korine can't have it both ways, at least not from where I'm sitting. The frenzied opening montage of topless beach-goers being sprayed with beer is edited to match the rhythms of the dubstep-infused score, but the camera itself has no part to play in this dance. It just heads straight for whatever naked torso is nearest. Too much of the film feels randomly captured, which would be fine, except for those stunning couple of ultra-directed tableaux that are meant to mix with them like they weren't rocks dropped into streams. If he can take the time to compose, not to mention beautifully art direct, a few scenes here and there, his 'Jay-Z music video' aesthetic that eats the majority of the film feels like a cop-out. The plot, when it kicks in, tells us he's having fun with the idea of lost youth, but his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink subject gathering and lack of focus in the edit says he's trying to say something important, hence the repetition. He's too selectively emphatic, and it begins to feel like he hadn't met his running time requirement and improvised in the editing room.

Point of view is another big issue. Korine found subjects willing to take their tops off, which to me says he needs to earn that. Is the film a celebration of go-for-broke youthful indulgence, or a back-handed condemnation? Too many of his girls go home hurt and psychologically damaged for him to fully believe that the ones who stay are making the right choice. I'd frankly have preferred if he'd gone all out, because his moral hand-wringing, presented as a retina-tiring parade of gratuitous young flesh, felt boring at best, hypocritical and irrelevant at worst. A little focus and this could have been a Michael Mann-style thriller about a couple of Disney Princess Scarfaces. And boy fucking howdy would I ever watch that. I can't get that image of a girl leaving Florida on a bus in the early hours of the morning. That's one of the most tragic, retiring and gorgeous scenes of 2013, and it hints at what might have been with a firmer grip on the narrative and a more discerning approach to cinematography. It's the inverse of Mann's Thief in a lot of ways,  trading specificity for vagueness, four girls for one man, ugliness for superficial beauty, a yearning for domesticity for a descent into wildness, a foundation for a dream. One knows exactly what it wants, the other wants everything and settles for nothing. But both have an expansive relationship to their urban environments that transcends genre. Thief is all discipline, Spring Breakers woke up late and then started drinking. Franco's "Look at all my shit" monologue serves an auto-critique. Korine has orchestrated so much and can't settle down to show it all coherently. He wants to see it all, but only succeeds in micro details, when he's calmed down enough to let his work speak for itself. As it stands, Trash Humpers, which grows into a bigger and more important work every time I think about it, was far and away the better film on this subject, and made me much less uncomfortable. My enjoyment of that film wasn't conditional. 

Speaking of uncomfortable: A Serbian Film! I hated it. Once upon a time I reviewed it and though christ is it ever wordy, I still agree with what my younger, angrier self had to say. Something as stiflingly slick as A Serbian Film, not to mention as relentlessly stupid and pretentious, ought not to talk down to its audience like it just read a book on Eastern European history and their first sexual harassment blog. It plays like cold war fan fiction written by Wednesday Adams, though she was eternally more witty and light-hearted than the hapless clowns behind A Serbian Film. Back when I spent most of my time critiquing horror and smut films the edict I adopted was that any filmmaker who outdoes the real-world cruelties they're out to expose shouldn't be making movies. There's a difference between enlightening and punishing, and I happen to think that one can be detrimental to our cultural relationship to history. People can give Dallas Buyer's Club and 12 Years A Slave shit for being what they think a straight, white viewership expects from an issue film, but I'd take that over an ethics lesson from someone who delights in dreaming up creative ways to torture people. Meretricious as they might come off, Jean-Marc Vallée and Steve McQueen aren't condescending, and for the record I think they're both great directors. Srdjan Spasojevic, meanwhile, is insanely condescending and has no moral high ground because he'd stoop to showing infants being raped for the sake of his lesson. What can we possibly learn from someone who takes such glee in depicting something like that? If he's wounded or personally upset by crimes committed against the Serbian people, he doesn't act like it. Films like Men Behind The Sun, Goodbye Uncle Tom, and A Serbian Film all lose their objectivity in the name of recrimination. They aren't crusades, they're empty atrocity exhibitions which expose their makers as decadent, unfeeling bullshit artists.

True Detective: The Locked Room

Fox on Episode 3 of True Detective.

“If the common good’s gotta make up fairy tales then it’s not good for anybody”. This line from Rust opens this newest episode of True Detective and it makes too much sense coming out of his mouth. It sums up not only his character but this series’ worldview. Very early on this show set itself as a series that would portray a world where mankind is the ruination of ….well…..mankind. And hearing Rust’s take on a congregation of hysterical worshippers seems inevitable. He refers to religion as a “language virus” that attacks pathways in the brain and dulls critical thinking. Again it’s not a new viewpoint on television and it's not a surprising to find it here. What is a surprise is on a series that seems to have set Rust up as the smarter of the two titular detectives, we watch his partner Marty shut him up with a great retort. “For a guy who sees no point in existence you sure fret about it a lot.” This line is gold. It's a critique and neat summary of every cop show ever made. And it’s the perfect way to start an episode. 

The third episode of True Detective settles into a more familiar HBO format. The story continues to unfold but as the first couple of episodes have pointed out, this series is a slow burner. The network has made a career out of this type of series but where True Detective has the advantage is in the mystery stringing this season along. That mystery keeps viewers going. Or at least it’s supposed to. AMC’s The Killing had three separate seasons to try and convince cable viewers that a good mystery was enough to keep people watching. And after achieving the near impossible feat of being canceled twice it became clear that a good mystery alone may not be enough for a cop drama. True Detective knows this and whether or not they used The Killing’s failure as a set of anti-guidelines, they have made sure to strengthen their defenses in the area where The Killing faltered in almost every episode: characterization. 

Point of fact, True Detective spends the majority of its running time on building its characters rather than on the central mystery. The writers do give us clues but rather than all of them focusing on the mystery at hand, they instead grant us sporadic glimpses into Hart and Cohle’s doomed partnership and they are all great. They make the show even more fun to watch. We already know their partnership is circling the drain and so you’d think the small details wouldn’t matter. But writer Nic Pizzolatto manages to make these tiny moments great both in quality and scope. He’s walking a really fine line that even a brilliant series like Breaking Bad bobbled in its weaker moments. But so far he’s only impressed me with his vignettes about two people who’ve been forced to work together and simply don’t gel. 

“The Locked Room” is an episode that really turns up the tension on Rust and Marty. Or rather from Marty toward Rust. Marty still carries himself like Walter White in the sense that everything he does (even the bad stuff) is 'for his family'. When he and Rust have disagreements, and almost all the serious ones happen when they aren’t working, the result is a growing resentment Marty feels toward Rust. It’s a touch comical to watch Marty grow increasingly furious at Rust’s personal life choices while Rust is so out of the social loop that he doesn’t even seem to notice. And the resentment is quietly compounded when Rust starts helping out Marty’s wife around the house. His wife (played by the always wonderful Michelle Monaghan) is only appreciative and immediately turns on Marty for never being around. You can’t help but relate Marty to the castrated suspect the two detective interview and clear early on in the episode. The nice thing is that Marty isn’t clearly the bad guy of the relationship. It's incredibly easy as a viewer to see his predicament. He’s built a so-called perfect life for himself and while his frustrations compile over it, he’s forced to watch Rust walk boldly through a life in shambles (by Marty’s standards) firmly believing none of it is even worth it. And all the while we get to watch beer cans pile up around present day Rust as his words get darker and darker. The road these two characters take to get them to present is still even more interesting than the murder that’s brought them together in the first place. 

What “The Locked Room” does this week is assures us that we really can’t rely on either of our leads. We already know full well that Rust is rapidly heading down the rabbit hole, but what we learn in this chapter is that Marty is truly and utterly full of shit. He preaches love and affection for his family and spends almost this entire episode working to destroy it. What’s even better is our present day version of him promises the interviewing detectives that while all that was going on he was totally stable and his love never wavered. Rarely do we get such a great presentation of an unreliable narrator. There’s quite a bit of focus on religion in this episode starting from the title and burning faintly through the backgrounds and set pieces of most scenes. And why not? Humanity’s take on religion lines up perfectly with Marty and Rust as people. Their own religious views mirror their personalities as well and the whole thing has a nice wrapped with a bow quality about it. Marty does his job to fight for order and against chaos while Rust revels in the idea that without that chaos they lose humanity’s one and final tie to the natural world. The episode closes with an incredible monologue by Rust where he brings the title fully into play. I won't bore you with the details. Rest assured I had goose bumps for the duration. And just when I thought it was over, the episode ends with one of the greatest freeze frames I’ve ever seen. Get me the next episode. Now.

Guess Who's Coming To The '68 Comeback Special

Over at Shadowplay, David Cairns has one of the best of the lot, Days of Matthew, in our '68 Comeback Special. He does a truly awesome job summing up its cumulative effect and few missteps, which is handy because if I'd gotten it I would have compared it to one of my favourite films ever, Philippe Grandrieux's Un Lac, and called it a day. Grandrieux has never, to my knowledge, acknowledged the comparison, and there are enough elements that keep it from being a straight-up remake, but Days of Matthew does haunt Un Lac's simple story of a family, including a troubled brother with a dependency on his sister, living in a cabin on a wooded island that supports a logging community. Grandrieux and director Witold Leszczyński both use the story as ways of imparting their definition of cinema at their purest, each edit and close-up a window into their celluloid souls. Leszczyński died in 2007, right around the time Grandrieux would have been deciding to make the movie, so I like to think that even if he wasn't consciously paying homage to the great polish director, that some phantom took the form of coincidence and forced Grandrieux to tell this story when he did, just like all those terrible Hollywood ghost movies. Anyway, David's appraisal is nice indeed, and makes for a better read than my borderline-Buddhist musings, and he ties it quite nicely into the British new wave! Also worth pointing out that he's been telling the story of his and Paul Duane's fabulous, poetic documentary Natan over at Mostly Film.

The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Lindsay Anderson

Lindsay Anderson

There is no such thing as uncommitted criticism anymore than there is such thing as insignificant art.
Anderson, left, with muse Malcolm McDowell

Contributed to: Sequence, Sight & Sound

Known for: About John Ford, "Stand Up! Stand Up!"

By the time Lindsay Anderson (April 17th, 1923 – August 30th, 1994) directed the Palme d'Or winning If...., he had lived many lives. Of his childhood, he had this to say: My father, a Scot and a soldier, was born in Nassik, North India. My mother (born in Queenstown, South Africa) was a Bell. I was born in Bangalore, a child of Empire. Did these antecedents make for an alienation, long unrecognised?" Anderson recognized that he was fated to be a thorn in the side of British tradition. His adolescence brought him within striking distance of British attitudes. He studied at prestigious Cheltenham College then joined the army at the tail end of World War II. This was all the proof he needed that 'civilization' was not for him and that the mainstream could be both a dull and dangerous thing. 

After leaving the service he discovered a love for film and founded a critical quarterly called Sequence Magazine along with fellow future director Karel Reisz. This allowed him to leverage a position writing for the british film journal Sight & Sound, where he developed his voice. Anderson's criticism broke from the confines of British film writing, alternately standing up for everything the older generation of British critics had decried and vice versa. He was a lone voice in the wilderness in England, fiercely protective of both the art of filmmaking and film writing. He wrote with a hard political edge, talking about the importance of style and content as they formed the backbone of a revolution. He felt that bad or negligible criticism would make it impossible for film culture to flourish: To a remarkable extent, denigration of the cinema, denial of its importance and its significance has become common among those who write about it professionally. By celebrating the merits of the trivial we lower the prestige of the cinema and indirectly make it difficult for anyone to make a good film. 

He would write many impassioned defenses of both artforms during his time at Sight & Sound, most notably a piece entitled "Stand Up! Stand Up!" calling for higher standards of critical writing, keenly aware that the two nourished each other: It is a matter of fact, not opinion, that the cinema is an art. This does not call for theoretical discussion - unless, of course, you enjoy that kind of intellectual exercise. If it is simply the truth we are after, the question has already been answered, empirically. If L'Atalante, Strike, Rashomon and Louisiana Story are not works of art, then there is no way of describing them. And if Griffith, Renoir, Jennings and de Sica are not artists, we will have to invent a new word for for them.

Noted champion of: Humphrey Jennings and John Ford. On Ford, on whom he published a book of critical analysis: "Ford has always found his true image of reality in this world, not in the deliberately fashioned symbolism of a literary invention; his symbols arise naturally out of the ordinary, the everyday; it is by familiar places, traditions and themes that his imagination is most happily stimulated." On Jennings: "He may be the only poet the British cinema has yet produced." I personally would call him the first poet of British criticism.

The Best Horror films of 2013

Lucas Mangum

Lords of Salem
by Rob Zombie
While we've written extensively about this film before, I can't say enough nice things about it. As director, Zombie takes his cue from the classical, but at no point does the work feel derivative or like a mindless tribute. It's his most mature work to date, as well as his most cinematic. While it's tempting to say The Devil's Rejects is an overall superior experience, it's unfair to compare the two. Rejects was the glorious sophmore effort from a new filmmaker in which he perfected the rough edges of his "everything but the kitchen sink" debut. Lords of Salem is a confident masterwork of an artist now comfortable in his medium.

by Park Chan-Wook 
Park Chan-Wook followed up his wonderful vampire film Thirst, with this, his first English language film. A strange portrait of a damaged family, the story comes together slowly like some sort of depraved puzzle. Each character is memorable, but huge kudos is owed to Nicole Kidman for her portrayal as the tragic, alcoholic mother. Stoker does a fantastic job holding the viewer's attention and doesn't stop being interesting.

Evil Dead
by Fede Alvarez 
Like Dawn of the Dead before it, a remake seemed at its best unnecessary and at its worst blasphemous. The Dawn of the Dead remake silenced naysayers by being one of the most exciting zombie movies in years and the Evil Dead remake did the same by being one of the best horror movies in recent memory. Beginning with a fiery prologue, the story then segues into a different take on the familiar cabin-in-the-woods motif. While lacking the humor of the original, the remake wins for being a visceral journey where the main character's struggle is real, and the triumph earned. Bonus points go to the icky and glorious practical effects.

by various
V/H/S/2 is an example of a sequel that improves vastly upon the original. There isn't a weak link in this handful of shorts that make up this anthology, just soon-to-be-iconic horror moments: zombies attacking a picnic in the woods, aliens crashing a slumber party, a woman giving birth to Baphomet. While the standout is by far, "Safe Haven" (a short film that achieves more in 15-20 minutes than most horror movies do in 90), each segment has its merits and if this is the new standard for the franchise, I eagerly await the third.

The Conjuring
by James Wan
In this 1970s-set thriller, James Wan abandons his death metal music video sensibilities and delivers his most confident and effective film to date. Recalling the glories of The Amityville Horror and The Entity, he employs classical gags and a multilayered story to create horror movie magic. I don't buy the accusations that it's misogynistic or right-wing. With the collaborative solution to the big evil following the failure of the exorcism, I think it could be argued that the film is anything but. Regardless, a fun, chilling haunted house flick.

by Larry Fessenden
We both knew this would end up here for reasons we discussed in our review. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the presence of a physical monster that you could touch adds a lot to the film's effectiveness. The film also has a lot to say about people and relationships, but does it amidst a survival crisis to make it interesting. Fassenden really outdid himself here.

You're Next
by Adam Wingard
This home invasion/survival horror sendup is a hard sell when taken too seriously. By the end credits, when the blood splashes upon the screen and forms the declaration "You're Next," it all becomes clear: the filmmakers are using the genre as a playground, much like Craven/Williamson with Scream and Whedon/Goddard with Cabin in the Woods. A fun romp through familiar territory, it's clear Wingard loves the genre and it's fun watching him have fun.

Warm Bodies
by Jonathan Levine 
This film's trailer misrepresented the work as zombies gone Twilight, when really it was closer to something like Return of the Living Dead. The jokes are genuinely funny, the bonies (zombies in advance states of decay) are genuinely scary, and the story is genuinely touching. I loved every minute of this film and I'm not ashamed to say so. With the saturation of undead media over the last ten years, I'd even go so far as to say that the subgenre was overdue for such a clever sendup.

American Mary
by Jen & Sylvia Soska 
The Soska Sisters, who are quickly becoming my favorite filmmakers, delivered this wonderful body-mod horror film and got right what countless Saw sequels got wrong. There are horrifiying things done to the human body in this film, yes, but the Soskas make this shit matter. A three-dimensional character who struggles hard sits at the center of this modern masterpiece and elevates the story to intense emotional levels.

Curse of Chucky
by Don Mancini
Yes, the multiple endings were a bit much. Yes, another Chucky movie was probably unnecessary. However, to deny the sense of fun surrounding this whole project would be doing yourself a disservice. For most of the film, it starts thing with a mostly clean slate. We know what's coming, but the characters don't, and that anticipation is what drives the story for much of the film. When the action begins, it's earned and totally worth the wait. I'd recommend this to fans of any film in the franchise.

Scout Tafoya

We Are What We Are
by Jim Mickle
I'm thankful in a lot of ways that in making this list, I had to keep asking myself what qualifies as horror. Time and again I'd encounter the fantastic likes of Stoker (one of the best films of the year), Sightseers and +1 and wonder if they count. They're frightening, sure, dark and immersive trips into nightmarish worlds, but are they horror? We Are What We Are is a little more forward than some of the films I left on the fence this year. There may be better films this year but none that managed to be completely absorbing drama as well as a very effective horror film and one of the finest remakes I've ever seen. Jim Mickle's been getting better with every film and here we arrive at something on the level of Ti West's House of the Devil, though it's far closer in style to The Innkeepers. A wife and mother of three dies, leaving them to carry on in her absence as an important ritual draws nearer. Bill Sage's father is the source of the film's best scares, himself a kind of walking jump scare. Religious fervor is the subject, and the faces of children a series of reflections. It's frightening as anything in the moment when something unexpected comes into the frame without warning, but the scare lasts longer when it's against a child's hope of the life they want. The eldest daughter's dream doesn't include her father or his way of life, and in the film's most abrupt, violent outburst, he becomes the most scary force she's ever encountered. Everything she's ever believed is shattered, and yet she can't bring herself to turn away because family is all she has. Mickle's film overflows with moral conundrums but none he harps on. They merely colour the precedings as things spiral further and further out of everyone's grasp. I've still got to write more on the film and why it speaks to me the way it does because We Are What We Are was one of my favourite horror films of this decade. 

Lords of Salem / A Field In England
by Rob Zombie / Ben Wheatley
As noted above, these movies aren't films dedicated to frightening you as they are crawling inside your unconscious mind like a worm. Their images creep off the screen like a mist, long deliberate pans and zooms. They are the strongest, and derive their power not only from their directors sense of how to compose and emphasize, but from their sense of manipulating elements from cinema history. Everything from the hats to the wallpaper are callbacks to a dreamscape conjured by Michael Reeves, Stanley Kubrick and John Carpenter, men who went looking for the abyss by way of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. These films are about people unwittingly drawn into the search for an altered state, a new dimension, some place between film and nightmares. A brief note must be made for Phillippe Grandrieux's phantom trip White Epilepsy, which is a disquieting, slow-motion journey into human flesh and its navigation of more of the same. That film lays a trap for your brain. More like these please. 

The Evil Dead
by Fede Alvarez
Remakes are inevitable; they're in the water now. They can be useless, and indeed most of them are, but they do occassionally come from people with talent that can't be bested by the system that produces them. Mark Hartley, he of Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed notoriety, redid Patrick one of the greatest films of the 70s Aussie horror boom and proved himself in line with a new tradition of warped Oz gore fiends. A wacky diversion, though I'm glad he hasn't totally given up the docs he built his home with. More my speed was the relentless retelling of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, a film I've been close with for most of my life. I understand everyone's objections, but don't care about them, because Alvarez is a fabulous director, creating a terrifying world solid and striking as a figure from Bosch rendered in marble. His colors are canyon deep, and he lights like he couldn't afford Bruno Delbonnel and needed to make it look like he showed up anyway. Craft is important, but most importantly, I had the daylights scared out of me. 

Andrés Muschietti

Muschietti is clearly also a fan of Sam Raimi and Stanley Kubrick (and maybe Ole Bornedal), and like Alvarez he's confined to a single location for most of Mama. He might not have the same way with actors or production design, but he might have an even better sense of how to scare. His monster is a fucking doozy, and he knows it. He shows her a little too much, but I forgive the impulse because she's one of the greatest beasties in recent memory. But the film wouldn't work at all were it not for a trio of performances from unreal actresses. Jessica Chastain only released one film last year (which for her counts as vanishing), but she made it count, totally entreating her goth rocker with enough spiky attitude and believable shades of compassion that she never feels less than 100% authentic. She doesn't grow more than you expect her to because a lifetime that produced that hair and those tattoos doesn't produce a secret Maria Von Trapp. And as good as le Chastain is, she almost can't compare to her young charges. Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse are stunningly assured performers, and they're both under 10. They're the heart of the film and do some of the greatest acting from children I've ever seen. They've been given no recognition that I've been able to find, which is a crime. Nevermind your definition of good horror, these girls are fantastic. 

Magic Magic
by Sebastián Silva
The first film that successfully makes American entitlement (circa the recent past) a ghoul on par with anything in the Dario Argento playbook. Updating one of Roman Polanski's isolationist psychodramas to the present wanderlust culture and finding that the old cure for exhaustion, a change of climate and a little rest, aren't nearly as soothing as they used to be. Silva turns tiny moments into exploded agony, expressionistic renderings of anxiety that are as unseasonably pretty as they are chilling. Juno Temple gives if not her best then maybe my favourite performance she's ever given. though she's matched in every way by the cosmic obnoxiousness of Michael Cera, turning up the anti-charm to 11 in ways few other people could hope to know. An exquisite portrait of someone coming off the rails.  

Beneath/The Jungle
by Larry Fessenden / by Andrew Traucki
Two old school monster films, one a tribute to Jaws, the other a very clear homage to The Blair Witch Project, going back to the root of movements as we understand them and trying to appreciate why we still look to them for answers. I think the Fessenden is the more unique of the two, and a fine addition to his catalog of things that go bump in the night (and under the boat), but both are great for scares both unconventional and reliable as a well-built house. 

by various
Here's the thing. The V/H/S movies are not created equally. There are two great segments and everything else is a waste of time. Last time David Bruckner and Radio Silence walked away with the film handily. This time the night belongs to Gareth Evans, he of Indonesian martial arts gangbang The Raid: Redemption. If you haven't seen that, you're gonna wanna do that right now. Then come back and watch his segment (co-directed with up-and-comer Timo Tjahjanto) "Safe Haven". A camera crew visits the homebase of what turns out very quickly to be a death cult with Satan's direct line. Few features have this kind of gory intensity and ingenuity. You'll laugh and scream and want to do it again. Jason Eisener's concluding segment "Alien Abduction Slumber Party" ain't half bad either. I like Eisener and think he's a great short film director, typically balancing the grim and the cute with something like aplomb. Wish he hadn't killed the dog, but, it is all in good fun, and that counts for something. 

Dark Touch
by Marina de Van
When the makers of the newest Carrie went into production they might have known they were engaged in a futile exercise far more successful in lining Stephen King's pockets than adding anything to the horror canon, but they couldn't have guessed that Marina de Van was going to make their efforts completely hollow and meaningless. Her version of Carrie, Dark Touch, is far more painful than anything King's ever written. It means to shed blood, to make you feel bad. It's a take no prisoners account of an abused orphan whose parents were killed under mysterious circumstances. Her foster parents discover a few shocking insights into the crime as they get to know Niamh, played by Missy Keating. She's got powers she can't control that make themselves known whenever she feels threatened. We are taken prisoner in the unformed understanding of a child who's both bullied, as you'd expect from a kid with self-esteem issues in a horror film, and punished by parents who thought themselves more adept at parenting than they turned out to be. A truly blistering exercise in sympathy. This one stays with you. 

Honorable Mention: Other than the footnotes scattered throughout mine, I want to give props to World War Z for introducing the coolest character in any boilerplate disaster movie: Daniella Kertesz's bald soldier Segen. She redeems whatever the movie got wrong, though I don't think it's an utter disaster. I enjoyed Europa Report, specifically Sharlto Copley's excellent performance as an American astronaut, putting George Clooney in Gravity to fucking shame. And lastly Frankenstein's Army, which is a very dimwitted movie, but there is a nightmare logic to its visuals and monsters that I greatly admire. Things just kind of appear in frame, descending from nowhere, killing at random. It's sort of like someone turned In The Fog into a videogame. It's callous, dumb and misanthropic, but directed in a kinetic, enjoyably lunatic fashion. 

Three hours from Chicago. Inside Llewyn Davis.

I have a piece on Inside Llewyn Davis over at this week in time for its UK release. And below is what I wrote about it for my best of the year list. It would have been my best film of the year if I hadn't seen the other great dark, romantic period piece of last year, The Immigrant. Though that won't see proper release for another few months. The thing about Llewyn Davis is that even having said all I've said, there's an inexhaustible quality to the film; you could write ten thousand words a day for a month and still it would reward repeat viewings. For instance I never got around to mentioning until right now that every single song in the film is about leaving and dying. That Llewyn's journey is toward annihilation. Toward a dark, uncertain tomorrow. It rejects the future. It rejects anyone else's notion of success. It rejects bullshit. No film has ever shown me how I, we, live today. If it can't say anything about the future it's because none of us know and we're all scared. The film's finest moment of reflection comes in a road-side diner. Llewyn sits opposite two strangers, miles from home or fortune, in a room echoing the sound of passing cars like the howls of rage and disappointment he's been hearing all his life, racing by like every single opportunity he's missed. And he's here. Three hours from Chicago, in the blinding dark. 

"Guys, we can't ALL identify with Llewyn Davis." wrote Matt Prigge after a few weeks of everyone in the world walking out of Joel & Ethan Coen's latest dark night of the soul and feeling like they'd lived some part of it before. In defense of everyone else, if you're a man who's as used to failure as success, or more accurately, have gotten so used to failure that success must be taken in microscopic doses, you understand what it means to be Llewyn Davis. Who's Llewyn Davis? He's the wrong cat. He could have made it but the pool was too full of contenders just like him who knew how to play the game a little better, or didn't know there was a game to play. Davis knows only too well that the game is real and rigged to boot. Anyone else who ever figured this out and said "no" was going to get an extra barb in their heart whenever he slips and falls, whenever he realizes his loved ones are getting fucked over, whenever he pushes his family away, everytime he nails one of his songs to no applause, and especially when he sits at that lunch counter with no money to his name, taking his feet gently out of his sopping wet shoes hoping they'll dry faster. That particular close-up broke my heart in six places. I lost count of the injustices he suffered that I'd also lived through; when I left it was into pouring rain, feeling like there was lead in my shoes. If there's solace, and there is, it's that the Coen Brothers know how to render the struggle for acceptance and the cruelty of fate better than just about anyone. They've returned to the colour palette that made Hudsucker Proxy feel immortal; director of photography Bruno Delbonnel's humane camera turning even the worst demons on Llewyn's shoulder into angels. And then there's the music. I'm definitely someone who's had more than his fill of Marcus Mumford and have on occassion hoped he would pack up his guitar and leave me alone, but his voice works as the broken promise of achievement. That radio-ready voice could and may well have been Llewyn's ticket to fame, but he'll never know that world. All he has is the bittersweet sound of Mumford (or Mike Timlin) to taunt him. Nevermind that it's their saddest screenplay, their most breath-taking evocation of any time period and that in Oscar Isaac one of the greatest performances they've ever directed, the Coens made me understand and even come to appreciate Mumford's voice. If I didn't already think this was their best film, that fact alone would have pushed it into classic territory. Forget that, though, it's too personal. Inside Llewyn Davis combines the lovely Folkways-styled soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the often terrifying depths of human behavior, drive and solitude of No Country For Old Men, the Job-like suffering and hysterical dark humour that drove A Serious Man, the frustration and injustice at the heart of The Man Who Wasn't There and somehow manages to keep alive the romantic worldview that kept Hudsucker afloat, not to mention following just three years after that film's 1958 New York setting. It's like a greatest hits record, but every cut sounds brand new. Who doesn't wish they could achieve that. In the meantime, we can settle for feeling like Llewyn Davis, putting the guitar down to finish the last verse unaccompanied knowing that no matter how good we're doing, there's no money in it.

True Detective: Seeing Things

Fox on True Detective's second episode.

I paid much more attention to the opening credits on this episode. They’re fairly typical of an HBO credit sequence. Beautifully shot and edited. A tad abstract. But what’s terrific about these credits is exactly what they depict. The sequence uses double exposure to project cityscapes, highways, church interiors and other locales onto the faces, foreheads, and abdomens of the series’ various characters. It shows these men and women as completely made up of their surroundings. They’re products of their environment. While this isn’t completely original thinking by any means it is a great entry into the headspace this series wants it’s audience to occupy. People are indeed a product of their environment and when opening moments of "Seeing Things" returns us to the back and forth narrative structure of past and present, we’re forced to think of how this gothic, murderous depiction of Louisiana is going to mold young Rust and Marty into their present day forms. And that’s just the first two minutes.

As if to call back to my comments last week about this not really being an according to Hoyle original cop drama, Marty has a great line of inner monologue where he likens police work to screenwriting. “You’re looking for narrative. Interrogate witnesses. Parsing evidence. Establish a timeline. Build a story. Day after day.” It’s a great insight to how his character approaches police work that completely backs up what we already know about him. But it’s also a nod to the audience. Cop stories have been done to death on TV. This show’s creators know that. And they’re really hoping you’ll stick with them to discover what they think is going to make this one different. Luckily I think we already have an idea. Star power is a great marketing tool but in the age of HBO finding stellar nobodies to fill roles it’s not everything. So when a series like True Detective tracks down two very killer performers I like to think it’s because the show’s creators know they’re going to need a deep bench. They're going to take these two lead characters into difficult territory and they need to be sure that whoever did land the parts would be able to bring them home.

True Detective’s second episode takes it’s leads to task right away. We learn from present Rust’s video confessional that even before the ’95 case he worked four long years as a deep cover narc. He cites a double cartel murder he committed with little more than a wave of his hand. We also see a hint of a smirk sneak into his thousand-yard stare as he asks the interviewing detectives, “you boys didn’t know that?” This revelation sort of scares me. Whatever happened to Rust between the ’95 case and now must really be something to have affected him so much. Especially when we know that his deep cover work was filled with drug addiction and violence and that resulted in a great, if stone faced and occasionally PTSD-and-hallucination stricken cop. The creators know that we want more insight into that period before the series ends. It does seem to inform why Rust dropped off the grid for so long after the ’95 case concluded. But what happened during those years to get him to his present state? The mystery box remains wide open.

This episode also gives us more insight into Marty’s character. He really wasn’t given much screen time in the pilot so he earned himself some more in this outing. It rapidly becomes clear why: Marty cheats on his wife with a woman named Lisa who works at the courthouse played by Alexandra Daddario. This is nothing new for a modern television audience. Don Draper and Tony Soprano had plenty of trysts in their respective series and we round out the antihero trinity with Marty echoing Walter White saying his cheating was “for the good of the family”. This facet of Marty’s character doesn’t do much for me but I really don’t think it’s supposed to. What’s important here is that we aren’t supposed to side with Marty. Unlike the leads on Mad Men or The Sopranos Marty isn’t our audience’s only direct line into the series’ established universe so we don’t have to try and justify what he’s up to just to like him more. If this show were about Marty Hart exclusively, it wouldn’t be all that good. Quality aside, we’d have seen it all before. But because we’re given Rust as his foil we’re allowed to see into a world we really haven’t been able to before. Neither Mad Men nor The Sopranos provided its leads with a distorted mirror image and this aspect is what’s going to keep me watching True Detective

Last week, I wrote that humanity is the singular cause for evil in the world, in True Detective’s world. And whether it's the cause or effect of that evil, humanity managed to escape nature during its rise to autonomy. So it’s only natural then that those who live on the outskirts of society return to nature. Marty and Rust spend some time this episode investigating a group of prostitutes who live quite literally in the middle of nowhere. They’ve dragged some trailers out into the swamp and treat it as their own private sanctuary.  And even while Marty berates them for their life styles they really appear as the only truly loving group of people in the series so far. And that’s part of why this show continues to have me hooked. It presents itself as one very familiar type of series. Cops and killers. Hookers and junkies. But just as quickly as it sets up its camps, True Detective quickly tears down our pre-existing ideas of who these people are and gets to the complex, dark, and surprisingly vulnerable creatures within.

The '68 Comeback Special: Black Jesus

There are naturally a few places where I split with popular opinion, at least with regard to relevant criticism. I love a bunch of things few others care about but more damningly I hate a few films that cinephiles really love. Hating A History Of Violence isn't the best way to let other critics know that you know what you're talking about. But hate it I do. Ok, maybe not hate, but it struck me as too intensely silly and ham-fisted (ye gods that music) to be taken seriously. I was missing something everyone else saw clear as day. Last year's darling Upstream Color did nothing for me, ditto Network, every Quentin Tarantino film after Jackie Brown, Fight Club, Amelie, Star Wars, Full Metal Jacket, Barry Lyndon, the films of Brian De Palma, and, finally the collected oeuvre of Sergio Leone. That last is of particular relevance to today's entry in the '68 Comeback Special, wherein David Cairns and I talk a little about every film that never got a shot at the Palme D'or after a protest cancalled the 1968 Film Festival. I admit up front that before I'd seen a foot of his distinctively styled films, my dad had cursed Leone's name up and down. He hated the man's films, didn't understand why everyone loved them, put up with the many half-truths and anachronisms or how haltingly dull they were. Now, as a kid I took it as gospel, as I did most everything he said, but I got older and curious and everybody else seemed to love them so I gave them a chance. I should have listened to my dad. Leone had an eye, sure, but he also had a way of making handsome people look like they'd been sculpted out of cow shit. He sucked the energy and life out of every single scene by making it last six or seven times as long as the stakes would reasonably allow. I got on bended knee and prayed for Once Upon A Time West and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly to please god end already how many times can we watch the same shit happen over and over again?!?! I didn't believe anything, I didn't care about anything, I didn't like anything. I didn't mind the bit in For A Few Dollars More where the villains go on a blue-hued drug trip, but that was about all I got out of the whole canon. To put it mildly, I'm not in the majority. 

I'd always been curious what it would look like if an editor went at a Leone with a chainsaw, cut all the extraneous horseshit, took out the Hanna-Barbera sound effects and gave them a sense of purpose beyond fanning the western genre with a palm frond while carrying it on your back like a princess through the streets of a backlot Arabian kingdom. I suspect it would look like Valerio Zurlini's morbid but moving Black Jesus (note: if you were to go the reverse direction and amp up the cartoon-style antics to break it out of its taxidermied sluggishness, you get Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger - win-win, either way). It's worth pointing out that it was David's review of Black Jesus as part of his series over at Mubi's Notebook, The Forgotten, that got the ball-rolling on this whole endeavor! I'm happy to give my two cents because I think the film's good enough to cover twice. Zurlini proves himself Leone's painterly equal, framing fore and background objects with the precision of a glassblower. He's much more influenced by war photographers, attaining a docu-realistic quality to a lot of the action, but he wasn't completely quit of the shadow of John Ford, which Leone wore like a bear skin cloak. After all, playing his Petrice Lemumba stand-in was the great Woody Strode, whom Ford loved dearly and had already turned into a christ figure in the unjustly forgotten Sergeant Rutledge, after a lifetime of playing supporting roles in classics. He's dubbed, unfortunately, but his face is pan-lingual and he's easily my favourite movie Jesus. The ironic thing is that he doesn't look a thing like the African extras that fill out the margins of the film. He looks a little divine, as David pointed out in his review, but he also has movie star charisma leaking out of his pores. There is no mistaking Woody Strode's cheekbones for the softer features of Petrice Lemumba. The ideal candidate to play him would have been Malcolm X, but a few factors, including his 1965 assassination, made that impossible. X easily could have been the subject of this film if Lemumba had managed to survive. Strode was however the best possible man for the job because he could stare into the middle distance and make you reconsider every mean thing you've ever said or done. That quality made him the quiet soul of many American films since the early 40s. In '68 audiences were given two opportunities to assess Strode's gifts and his place in cinema history. Refused leading man stature in the states he went to Italy and worked for both Zurlini and Leone. Only one of them gave him the spotlight. 

Leone killed Strode ten excruciating minutes into Once Upon A Time In The West, casting him because John Ford had done so first. He's not an actor, he's window dressing. Zurlini, on the other hand, saw that Strode had immense gifts as a performer and tried as hard as he could, through a language barrier, to allow him the space in which to deliver the performance of his career. Ultimately the Leones of the world would win and Strode would be reduced, like so many other American character actors, into rounding out the overstuffed cast lists of shitty Italian jungle movies, a prop used to raise money instead of an actor. But forget that for a minute, because his work here is commendable. So far that matter is Zurlini. He's a gifted image-maker, but what I loved most about it was the way he handles silence. There are long, aching stretches where no one speaks, but it's an organic, rather than a formalist boast as it is in Once Upon A Time. The story: a deposed leader is caught by white colonialist forces. They try him in an ad hoc court secreted away from the people who believe in him. Lemumba has little to say to his oppressors, knowing they have no right to judge him, and not wanting to give them the satisfaction of acting like the man they think he is. Jean Servais, his interrogator, does most of the talking. Meanwhile a few other criminals are brought to the cells along with him, and they'll be killed just for being confined to the same cell with him. The title of the film is a bit of a spoiler and Zurlini plays a diabolical waiting game. Servais and his men have all the power, so in prolonging his trial and imprisonment, they're toying with Strode, just as our director does with the audience. Every second of silence, every overheard scream from some other poor sap being tortured elsewhere in the building is a little reminder that bad men will alway wield all the power. The sound design makes it seem like you can hear every whisper for miles around.  Zurlini conjures a powerful atmosphere, and I like that he's not saying that Lemumba was specifically christ-like, but that as long as the wrong people are in charge, christ-figures are gonna keep coming out of the woodwork to combat them. One could easily make a film that turns Malcolm X into Jesus, and I'd pay good money to see it. The wrong guys with the right ideas always get killed because that's the dynamic we choose over and over again. The burial of Black Jesus after Cannes (possibly) prevented both Zurlini and Strode from being recognized. It's impossible to say if the film winning the Palme d'Or would have made a difference in either man's career, but the what-if makes me furious all the same, especially while Sergio Leone enjoys an untouchable reputation as one of our greatest artists. Now, that's hardly on par with wrongful crucifixion, but life's full of little trials like that. All we can do is be on the right side of history. 

True Detective: The Long Bright Dark

[Editor's note: The following piece on HBO's True Detective, written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga, was written by Fox the day after the pilot premiered. My apologies for the late delivery!   -Scout}

I once watched a TED Talk with JJ Abrams where he explained the importance of something called “The Mystery Box”. This concept stems from the idea that an audience is more prone to stick with a story if they know there’s something in it for them. He cites Star Wars, a sci fi mythology hybrid that really never presents a mystery. At least not a in the traditional sense. But Abrams goes on to explain that because we keep meeting new characters, going new places, and seeing new things without any of them being over explained to us from the get-go, we appreciate that there is a mystery to these people. Princess Leia’s recording in R2-D2’s memory bank alone pulls the story along and can’t help but pull the audience with it. True Detective begins it’s pilot with one hell of a mystery box. We’re immediately presented with two versions of both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. I say versions because even though it’s immediately clear that the show is essentially a flashback told in the present by Harrelson & McConaughey, the real angle of the re-telling of their first case together is to set up just why these two men have changed so much both in appearance and more importantly temperament. Harrelson presents himself as a veteran cop with a closely shaved head of hair and a bit of a beer gut. McConaughey on the other hand looks like a maniac. He's being filmed in an interview room but he stares off into space and ignores the fact that he’s indoors as he attempts to light up a cigarette. With hiss wild head of hair and equally crazy moustache he looks not unlike Charlie Manson.  Within the first five minutes we’re presented with a hook. How on earth did these two men get from point A to point B in their careers and more importantly in their lives?

Rust Cohle (McConaughey) is described by Marty Hart (Harrelson) as insanely smart. This is another wonderful set up because even though it’s very clear that Cohle is heading down a road that will lead to the wild present tense version of himself, we’re able to see that here is a man who is really good at what he does. And it raises a question. Is he still good at what he does? Is his desert island appearance just a part of a larger whole that we don’t understand yet? Do you want to keep watching yet? I sure do. By the end of the episode we learn that the two are being interviewed because another murder has occurred in the present and it's nearly identical, to the detail, to a murder they at least thought they had solved over a decade prior. Now we’re talkin’.

And the mystery doesn’t always revolve around police work. We get an early glimpse into Cohle’s apartment; it's stocked with a mattress on the floor, some books on psychoanalysis and criminal minds and that’s about it. Hart looks around the empty apartment in mild awe that a man could live this way. His present self mentions that a middle-aged man without a family can be dangerous. He clearly doesn’t understand Cohle but wants to. And Cohle quickly makes it clear that he wants to learn about his new partner as his own way. 

All of these pieces make for a great pilot. They allow for a logical progression of details being delivered to both the characters within the story and the audience without anything seeming out of place or odd that it hadn’t been revealed earlier. True Detective does manage to find good storytelling in clichés as well. Hart is a by the book detective who hunts for real evidence to make a case. Cohle on the other hand is far more cerebral, basically doing unauthorized undercover work to gather information about the people he’s suddenly surrounded by. He even garners the nickname “Taxman” because of the ledger he keeps with him at all times to keep track of all the wheels that are turning. We’ve seen this partnership before but it doesn’t feel stale here. Instead we sort of revel in watching these familiar roles being played by two of the finest actors working today. The series itself was ordered for an 8-episode season and every one of them is written & directed by the same two guys. This is insanely rare for both television, even HBO, but from what I’ve seen so far I’m happy to see what the duo can do.

The pilot’s paradoxical title actually does a lot to explain what we’re in for as an audience. Early on in the episode Cohle goes off on a bit of rant about how humanity doesn’t make sense as a species. He surmises that we sort of broke the rules by being here with everything we have. We’ve superseded any control and exist completely independent of nature itself. Hart calls bullshit on him but the idea gets planted in both his mind and the audience’s. If humanity has somehow broken the rules of nature then what we’ve done or what we do must be in some way, evil. Cohle’s ramblings also suggest that the natural world is a place of beauty even if it is uncompromising. It’s humanity that pushes wrongdoing and hurt into the world. So in being technologically advanced, civilized beings we can’t help but shed light on our own horrifying faults. The time that humanity has spent on this earth can only be seen as the planet’s darkest period. And it’s nobody’s fault but ours.

The Oscar Race

Over the last few weeks, since the Golden Globes nominations, it seems everyone is talking about how great a year it’s been for black filmmakers and actors. The year 2013 saw a great many commercial successes geared towards and helmed by African Americans. This in itself wasn’t news, but these films were accompanied by a number of critically favorable and sometimes downright prestigious films also about and/or by African Americans (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 12 Years a Slave). This started a discussion going into the Academy Awards that this may be the year for African Americans in film. And while I really do hate raining on a parade, I’m going to.

For starters, look at the three African Americans actors nominated for Academy Awards this year. We’ve got two slaves and a Somali pirate. Sure, the presence of three African American actors in the nomination pool is good, considering how overwhelmingly white the Oscars traditionally are, but it paints a sad picture of what kind of roles will get you noticed by the Academy.

And then there’s Steve McQueen, nominated for best director. McQueen is the third Black director ever nominated for an Oscar. He’s a fine director and his picture, 12 Years a Slave, is worthy of the high praise it has received. But it deserves mentioning that his first film, Hunger, was sensational (and about white people). Both it and his follow up, Shame (also about white people), were entirely ignored by the Academy. But the moment McQueen makes a film about slavery, he’s suddenly the man of the hour.

I find myself fondly looking back at 2010, when Katherine Bigelow became the first woman to win the award Best Director for The Hurt Locker (and as the cherry on top she also took home Best Picture). While there was so much talk about her breaking the glass ceiling for women in film (though, it seems no other women has since been allowed within 100 feet of the Best Director award), what’s often overlooked is the material she won with.

Bigelow made a war film, one of the most predominately male genres in the industry. And she did it again with Zero Dark Thirty three years later. I think the idea that only women should make films about women and only men should make films about men and only Asians should make films about Asians to be poppycock. The art of acting comes down to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. The art of directing is all about constructing an illusion. The very nature of narrative film is artifice.

Bigelow spat in the face of those assumptions. By snatching the war film mantle from her male predecessors, she showed the world that Hollywood is not a boys’ club anymore. The question is, if McQueen wins, will he be making a similar statement about race? I don’t think so. At best, it's says, “If at first you don’t get noticed, make a film about slavery.” At worst, it says, “These are the films we, as black artists, get to make.” And I really don’t want that to be true.

There are so many things wrong with the Academy Awards that ragging on them is picking low-hanging fruit, and I’m in no way saying they shouldn’t have nominated 12 Years a Slave. But, just because there are (gasp) four black people at the Oscars, doesn’t mean you can go around patting yourself on the back and tooting the horn of racial equality. 

12 Years A '68 Comeback Special

David Cairns continues our joint look at the films of the never-concluded 1968 Cannes Film Festival. This week's entry, Marcello Fondato's I Protagonisti, one of the more thoughtful entertainments of the festival. In a schedule full of very dark political and social fables and ghastly british romps through tie-dyed modernity, it was a relief to see Fondato executing pans, dollies and tracking shots with practiced ease, though remarkably David says this was his first film. It also features one of my personal obsessions: Lou Castel. What do you need a map? I've already given you a hyperlink. It's up there! See it?

Meanwhile, I have to draw the viewers to a piece I have over at, my first for them, on one of the best films of 2013, Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave. I had a great time and the fellas running the shop over there are topnotch! Looking forward to doing more work for them and pretending for a brief second I live somewhere with a European release schedule. Feedback most welcome!

Welcome to the Critical Encyclopedia

I'm beginning a new venture here at Apocalypse Now: The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism. Lately I've gone looking for details about some of my favourite critics and found the resources online decidely lacking. There are fantastic collections of online criticism (Please oh please head over to, which is an invaluable site run by a stand-up guy. I can't stress how great and important a place like that is) but nowhere that compiled biographical resources for critics like Kent Jones, Dennis Lim, J. Hoberman, Dan Sallitt, Lindsay Anderson, etc. etc. etc. In other words I knew less about some of the most important voices in film criticism than I deemed acceptable. So I'm out to right that wrong and hopefully compile enough info to make a comprehensive guide to the art of criticism available to whomever needs that info. Every week I'll try to post a new entry on a critic, journal or school of thought.

A typical entry will look something like this:

Scout Tafoya
"And just as we hear the voices of his characters in [Terence Malick's] movies, I hear film critics wherever I go."
Contributed to:, Film Comment, Apocalypse Now, Mostly Film,

Influences: David Cairns, Matt Zoller Seitz, Scott 'El Santo' Ashlin, Nathan Rabin, Lindsay AndersonKevin B. LeeBen Sachs, Mark Kermode, Adam Cook, Roger Ebert, Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Noted champion of: John Carter, MST3K, James Gray, Beloved Sisters, Tobe Hooper. 

Scout Tafoya (June 7th, 1989-) is a filmmaker and critic from Doylestown, PA. He's the head writer and editor at the arts blog Apocalypse Now, contributes video essays to, and he has written for and He graduated from Emerson College, but started writing about film in high school. He often writes in a very personal, first person style. He's fond of parenthetical asides, standing up for oddball critical failures and falling asleep in films in order to merge them with dreams and feel like he's living in them. He often writes about zones of unconsciousness only reachable in film and the different ways celluloid and digital reach them. He's something of a cheerleader for other critics in his writing and on twitter.

Known for: nothing in particular, but for the sake of the Template, let's say The Unloved, a video essay series made with the help of Matt Zoller Seitz, editor-in-chief at The essays reconsider the merits of many films considered failures at the time of their release.

Take all that about me with a grain of salt, it's just an example. Anyway, that's the template. Suggestions are not just welcome, they're imperative. There's no way I know everything I need to in order to make this project as good as it could be, so for crying out loud chime in loudly and often. Thank you and I hope this proves useful to you in the future.

First Views, 2013; or, It Took You This Long To See That?

I really should have been doing this before now. Over the course of 2013 I saw these older films for the first time and loved them to pieces. 

Major director discoveries/explorations: André De Toth, Joseph Losey, Michael Cimino, Robert Aldrich, Curtis Harrington, Jean Negulesco, Vincente Minelli, Fritz Lang, Lionel Rogosin, Sidney Lumet, Frank Borzage, Richard C. Sarafian, Souleymane Cissé, Arthur Penn, Budd Boetticher, Elaine May, & Robert Greene.

Performers that made the biggest impression/made me see them in a new light: Maria Callas, Gretchen Moll, Randolph Scott, Cyd Charisse, Regina Baff, Burt Lancaster, Elaine May, Annie McGreevey, Taylor Mead, Joe Don Baker, Lynn Redgrave, Sean Connery & Fred Astaire.

Unforgettable rep screenings: Sorcerer & The New World on 35mm at BAMCinematek. L'Avventura on 35mm at Film Forum. 
Maria Callas on the set of Pasolini's Medea
Kam čert nemůže
Two Weeks In Another Town
The Haunting of Julia
The Eyes of Laura Mars
Before Sunrise
Before Sunset
The Missouri Breaks
Murphy's War
Emperor of the North Pole
Cut-Throats Nine
The Terminal Man
The Sugarland Express
Letter Never Sent
The Three Musketeers (1973)
Colossus: The Forbin Project
Man in the Wilderness
Night Tide
Autumn Leaves
The Cars That Ate Paris
The Gypsy Moths
The Sorcerers
The Spirit
The Loveless
All That Jazz
Manhattan Murder Mystery
All The President's Men
Park Row
Next of Kin (Australian)
The Notorious Bettie Page
Three Comrades
Inside Daisy Clover
Comanche Station
Letter From An Unknown Woman
Day for Night
The Desperate Hours (1990)
Chronicles of the Years of Fire
The Woman In White
Sacred Ground
The King of Marvin Gardens
Badou Boy
The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle
Fake It So Real
The Gay Divorcee
History Is Made At Night
Pitfall (1948)
Din of Celestial Birds
The Rise & Fall of Legs Diamond
Dark Water
My Name is Julia Ross
The Gauntlet
Thomasine & Bushrod
...All The Marbles
Hard Times
In Vanda's Room
Hellraiser 2
Flesh + Blood
Vera Cruz
Ulzana's Raid
A New Leaf
Mystery of Picasso
The Outfit
Mickey One
Lolly-Madonna XXX
Medium Cool
The Mortal Storm
Babo 73
Below The Belt
Stage Door
Purple Noon
The Great Moment
Odd Obsession
The Enchanting Shadow
The Delinquents
The Man In The White Suit
The Ninth Circle
The Lady With The Little Dog
The Chasers
Home From The Hill
You Only Live Once
Most Dangerous Man Alive
Anatomy of a Murder
The Color of Money
L'Amérique Insolite
The Ladykillers
Stormy Monday
He Who Gets Slapped
The Outrage
Manhattan Melodrama
Carson City
The Lavender Hill Mob
Stranger on the Third Floor
Last of the Mobile Hot Shots
The Offence
The Hill
Go West
Come Back, Africa
Das Schloß (1968)
Day of the Outlaw
Daddy Long Legs 
To Die For
Portrait of Jennie
Flight of the Phoenix
The Reckless Moment
Thunderbolt & Lightfoot
Die Nibelungen
The Upthrown Stone
The World of Henry Orient
Hangmen Also Die!
Ministry of Fear
Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round
The Prowler
Drive, He Said
The Hired Hand
Man in the Wilderness